Decision-Making Tool: The Weighted Pro/Con List

In a previous blog (here), I introduced a tool for helping us make decisions that have us stymied.  When we are facing a complicated decision, we can become stuck and paralysis by analysis can set in.  This post will introduce a spin on a common tool that may help you clarify which option is best for you and will hopefully help you to take steps in that direction.

We are all familiar with the tried-and-true pro/con list.  It is one of our most fundamental decision-making tools and is usually very helpful for us to see which option is more heavily weighted.  But I have often spoken with folks who have completed a pro/con list and still have no further clarity over which option is ideal for them.  Some of the choices we face are so nuanced and complicated that a traditional pro/con list may not pierce the fog of indecision.  It is these types of situations in which the following augmentation to a pro/con list may be helpful.

The procedure is as follows:

  • Make a traditional pro/con list (or multiple pro/con lists if your decision has multiple options).  Be thorough.  Brainstorm as many items as possible, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the factor may be.
  • Assign a numerical value of 1 through 3 to each item on the pro/con list based on how important that factor is to you.  1 would indicate that this is a minor or fairly insignificant factor, not closely aligned with your values or priorities.  2 would indicate a moderate level of importance or alignment with your values or priorities.  3 would indicate a high level of importance or alignment.
  • Now we do some math.  (eek!  But worry not, it is just simple addition) We add up the numbers in each column (add all of the pros and then all of the cons).  We can now compare the ratio of pros to cons.

What we have now is all of the benefits of a traditional pro/con list with the added benefit of a numerical representation of how important and impactful each category is.  And if we had multiple choices and therefore multiple pro/con lists, we now have a way to compare these lists.  If you feel comfortable with these math concepts, you can also use the ratios or fractions of each list to further compare the multiple lists.  But even if you do not feel confident in these math skills, simply comparing the raw number is often telling enough for this to be a useful assignment.

Let me provide an example to show this process and the math involved works.  Let’s say that we are trying to compare options for an upcoming vacation.  We have 2 options: Disneyworld or a visit with family in a nearby state.  Here is the pro/con list for each option with the weighted values:

In this example, if this had been just a traditional pro/con list, the outcome would have been unclear because the lists were equal in terms of how many items were either pro or con.   But when we weighted each item, the numbers revealed that there was a significant difference in terms of which option held more important items in each category.  When we take into account our values and what we find important, a clear decision emerges. 

When this is the case, it can allow us to easily move forward with the option that was the clear winner.  But what about the scenario when both/all options still end up either closely or evenly weighted?  In those situations, I often advise people to rely on either the coin flip strategy detailed in the previous blog post (here) or some other way of randomizing the choice.  We can have fun and be creative with this (throw darts, spin a bottle, etc.) and remind ourselves that we are choosing between identically attractive options, so there is no wrong answer. I hope that you find this strategy to be useful and helpful in your future decision-making quandaries! 


How To Decide Between Two Options

We’ve all been there before: faced with a decision big or small, seemingly unable to decide which of the two options we face would be best for us.  You’ve ran through the pros and cons, considered every possible angle, but are still unable to get a clear sense of the best road forward.  You feel paralyzed to make a decision.  What to do?

I’ve discovered a solution that may seem odd, but bear with me and read through this thoroughly because it is more complex than it will first appear.  I’ve found, both in my private life and in suggesting this to my clients, that it is effective in helping solve these decisional stalemates. 

As odd as it may seem, I want you to take out a coin and assign one option you are considering to the “heads” of the coin and the other option to the “tails” of the coin and then, you may have guessed it… flip the coin.  Allow this coin flip to decide which option you will pursue.

Now, you may be rolling your eyes and realizing that there is absolutely nothing new about this approach, but here is the rub…  After this deciding coin flip, turn your attention to your gut reaction to the outcome.  Are you disappointed or happy about the outcome?  You will likely have one of these two reactions (disappointment or acceptance).  Something along the lines of “ah, man, I was kinda hoping it would be the other one” or “oh, good.”  Even if your reaction is just “ok, I guess that’s the one,” that falls into the acceptance category.

This quick exercise is an effective way to gauge your subconscious and previously undiscovered leanings in the decision you face.  I have personally used this exercise in decisions big and small; in quandaries ranging from what to get for dinner to major purchases and I have been struck by how helpful this approach is.  And even though a part of you knows the “trick” that you are playing on your mind, it still somehow remains effective in uncovering your subconscious opinion.

So, next time you are debating between two options, try this exercise out and please share your experience in the comments below.